Finding out if you have the coronavirus is WAY more difficult than actually catching it.
This is a guest column by a California-based soccer coach. The views and opinions expressed here do not represent those of TooFab or its editors. This article is not intended to provide medical advice nor should it be used to inform decisions about your health. If you have questions please visit the websites for the CDC and WHO.
I'm young, quite fit and — normally — very healthy. I'm also pretty sure I have covid-19.
But the journey to find out has almost been as excruciating, frustrating and scary as the disease itself.
Last Monday (9th of March) I started coughing quite badly. I joked to my wife Heidi that I had the virus. She reminded me that I had just spent the weekend coaching two games and had also led a mass try-out the day previous. "Your throat is just damaged from the shouting on the sidelines." Made sense.
As the day wore on, I began to feel tired and fatigued. I went and coached a session with my wonderful girls and felt okay(ish), but on my drive home I really began to crash. I slumped on the sofa and felt very weak and exhausted.
The next day was worse. My fatigue was really bad and my dry cough was incessant. I didn't leave the apartment all day. Wednesday came and I felt no worse but no better. I actually managed to go for a short cycle but by the time I got home, my lungs were incredibly exasperated.
Thursday I began to get concerned. I'm rarely sick, and never usually for longer than 48 hours. My levels of fatigue were at an all time high, my cough was still dry and persistent, and my chest felt extremely tight. Googling covid-19 symptoms, these all seemed to be clear indications. Except that I had no fever. I told Heidi that if I felt the same on Friday I would see if I could get tested.
I'd read that getting tested was difficult, but had no idea how difficult it would be.
Friday I woke up and felt the same, so I finally called my doctor. The first receptionist I spoke to was fairly dismissive.
"You think you have coronavirus?" he asked, in an almost condescending tone.
"No sir, I don't know what I have, but I've been symptomatic for five days now and would like to be tested".
"Well we don't have tests here and you shouldn't come into the offices if you are feeling those symptoms anyway".
I then called the Long Beach, California health department hotline number. The ladies on the other end of the phone were extremely helpful, but obviously had their hands tied. They told me that to be tested, I had to answer a series of questions, and they would then pass my information onto someone that would decide if I could get tested or not. The one question that kept popping up as a pre-requisite for testing was: "Have you been in contact with anyone that has tested positive?"
This was a red flag. If no-one is getting tested than how would I, or anyone else, know this?
I was finally called back after a few hours only to be told to call my doctor again. Apparently I have to have him say I need to be tested. Ugh. I called the doctor again and this time spoke with a new receptionist. She was even ruder in tone than the first guy
"You need to call the health department sir".
An important caveat to add: I know and totally understand the stress and duress these people are under, and especially right now. They deal with people at their worst and must deal with a barrage of rudeness and hostility. I always take that into account and try and meet them with kindness. I duly explained that both the doctor's office and the health department keep telling me to call each other, and I feel like I'm in between a rock and a hard place.
"Well that's not my fault sir!" I asked her to lower her tone and just help me. She told me to hold the line and a minute later my doctor finally came on the phone.
I like my doctor and have always thought him to be concise, caring and knowledgeable; but what he went on to tell me was alarming. He told me not to worry, and I assured him I wasn't. He then went on to explain that I "only have the flu."
"You don't have the virus and even if you did, the virus itself hasn't actually killed anybody yet!"
I know he was trying to explain that it's those with underlying conditions that die... but I thought that was a hell of a statement to make.
He then prescribed me Tamiflu, Prednisone, Albuterol Inhaler and Azithromycin along with over the counter Robitussen. He assured me I'd be feeling a lot better in 72 hours and that he had read that flu medications helps against the coronavirus, but that fact hadn't been reported by the media.
This last "assurance" by him had the complete opposite effect. It worried me that some health professionals are clearly just flying by the seat of their pants. It's okay for people to say I don't know. That honesty would personally be more assuring to me rather than bat shit theories. (Pun intended).
I began my medications on Friday and took them all weekend through Monday. The weekend is a blur. The fatigue, cough and shortness of breath were at their worst yet. My lungs were now very limited and were extremely painful when I coughed. On Monday I was really struggling to take deep breaths.
This is the first time I got scared. Not being able to breathe normally is frightening, but I know that panic and anxiety only makes it worse. I tried to keep calm.
I actually had posted on Mayor Garcetti's Facebook page numerous times over the weekend and again on Monday. I actually got a message back which told me to email his office and they would see what they could do. This gave me a glimpse of hope of being tested... but the responding email was from someone telling me just to call the health department. Here we go again.
I called my doctor's office and I told them that the doctor told me to call back if the meds hadn't improved my condition. I explained that my symptoms had been going on for 8 days and I was getting worried.
"Well Mr. Turnbull, you were only prescribed these on Friday morning so its not been eight days!". Ooof.
"No. I understand that I've only been on my meds for three and a half days but my symptoms have been for eight days," I told him. "The doctor told me to call him back if they persisted".
I was again told to call the Health Department -- so I did -- and it was exactly the same rigmarole as before. I was told once again to call my doctor -- so I did -- and I was asked the same questions, and was told that they will pass on my info and I'd be called back. No-one called me back.
I couldn't stand the feeling anymore. The shortness of breath was really worrying me. I really did not want to go hospital as I knew I was probably contagious. But at this point, I had no choice. I told Heidi to take me to Long Beach Memorial.
On arriving it looked like a disaster movie. Tents set up outside the hospital with nurses in biohazard suits. The zombie apocalypse is upon us.
There was no access to the emergency room without approaching a screening tented area with two incredibly friendly nurses awaiting me. I explained my symptoms. They took my temperature, checked my blood pressure and evaluated my lung function. I was surprised that they seemed so concerned. I had been dealing with such a blasé attitude previously that I was sure they'd just send me home.
My heart rate was very high and the nurse checking my lungs quickly radioed in that they had an urgent patient with them. They put me in a mask and walked me to another tented area where I had to go through your usual questions of general health etc. I was finally ushered through the long corridor of the tent to a doctor who spoke with me in great length about my week.
I told him about the medications I was put on, and he insisted I stop taking them all immediately -- especially the Prednisone. He explained that recent research indicated that Prednisone could make it worse. I duly obliged.
I told them that I had recently been to NYC and after assessing me they described me as a high risk urgent patient. He told me that the build up of fluid in my lungs wasn't a concern yet, and that's what the main worry would be. If I start to feel any worse then I should head straight back to the E.R.
After hearing a short discussion between the doctors, they decided that I should finally be tested for the coronavirus.
This implied to me that some people still aren't being tested, which is a worry. Everyone that seeks testing should be tested. I know that the tests aren't available but that's just not good enough. I read yesterday that Idris Elba was tested positive and he has zero symptoms. That's what makes this so dangerous. The current administration, regardless of your political affiliation has done such an awful job with this and has let its people down with disinformation and inadequate care.
The country isn't prepared but I think its people are. The outpouring of love and support has been wonderful. Friends offering to drop off soup or anything I'd like. I'm lucky to have an amazing wife who is also my best friend, but not everyone is so lucky.
What I would implore is that we all keep banding together (6 feet apart please) and keep helping those that need help. I understand this is worrisome and we're scared as am I, but lets really try and be empathetic. Now's not the time to be selfish. It's hard I know but we're literally all in this together.
My wife and I work five jobs between us, and we just lost all of them. We now have zero income. We have enough to pay this month's rent, but after that, we're not sure what will happen.
It's really tough but what keeps us in perspective is that there's always someone going through something worse.
My test was sent to a lab and I should know the results between 2 and 5 days. If this is coronavirus, I'll likely live to fight another day. Not everyone will.